OFFICER THOMAS L. ROBERTS – EOW: 4-10-1898
By: Officer Mike Severance – North Precinct
On April 10, 1898 at 2:15 a.m., Officer Thomas Roberts was walking his beat by himself in the area of 18th Ave. and Jefferson Street. As he approached that intersection, he stopped to talk to Officer George E. Deigh who worked the neighboring beat. The weather was cold, and the officers had modified their clothing to stay warm. Roberts was wearing his civilian clothes. Deigh had on a Macintosh coat over his uniform. Deigh had pinned his star to his outer coat and was wearing his police helmet. As they walked together going east on Jefferson towards 18th Ave., they heard footsteps coming towards them from the north. The officers stepped into some shadows. They saw two men, one tall and the other short, walking south on 18th Ave. on the east side of the street. The officers crossed the street and approached the two men. Officer Deigh began questioning them as to where they were going, where they lived, and what they were doing in the area. Without warning, the shorter of the two took a .44 caliber revolver out of his pocket and shot Officer Roberts twice, once in the stomach and once in the leg. Roberts fell to the ground. The taller suspect ran away immediately. Officer Deigh drew his pistol as the suspect started firing at him. During the exchange of gunfire, Deigh was shot in the wrist. Officer Deigh and the suspect both emptied their guns, having fired a total of 10 shots. Deigh ran to Roberts’ side to get his gun. By that time, the suspect was a half block away, having run south on 18th Ave.
Officer Deigh went door to door seeking help. He found Dr. C.A. Smith and sent somebody else to the police station for help. As Deigh and Dr. Smith got to Officer Roberts, he died from internal bleeding.
Officer Roberts was survived by his pregnant widow, Orpha, and his children, Lydia, Jesse, and Hannah.
The investigation over the next several days revealed the killer was an ex-convict named Richard H. Lee, AKA Shaffer. Lee had made his way to the western shores of Lake Washington after the shooting, and had hidden during the daylight hours of April 10th. He then stole a boat and rowed to the east side of the lake, coming ashore near Houghton. He burglarized a home in Meydenbauer Bay later that evening. He was seen by an acquaintance near Woodinville at 10:00 a.m. on April 11th. Lee was never captured.
In June 1898, two months after the murder of her husband, Orpha Roberts gave birth to their daughter, Elizabeth. Orpha and the children then moved back to Philadelphia where Orpha spent the rest of her life. In 1940, at the age of 73, Orpha was living with Lydia and Lydia’s husband in Philadelphia. Daniel Tipton, a great-great grandson of Thomas Roberts, currently resides in Delaware.
Thomas Lenny Roberts was born on February 3, 1863 in a house on the northeast corner of 11th and Vine St. in Philadelphia, PA. The Roberts family was well known, and Thomas’s father, Albert C. Roberts, had been a high ranking city official. Thomas had worked for a tinware manufacturer until, in 1890, he took his family to Seattle along with his father and brother, John. Thomas and John opened Roberts Bros., a mercantile business. Thomas also dabbled in real estate. He had worked as a part time King County Deputy Sheriff for a number of years. He was commissioned as a Seattle police officer on March 18, 1898. At the time of his death, the family was living at what is now 119 28 Ave. E. which is where the funeral was held. Officer Thomas Roberts is buried at Lake View Cemetery.
In May 1998, Officer Thomas L. Roberts was one of forty Seattle police officers to be posthumously awarded the Washington Law Enforcement Medal of Honor. There were no known descendants at that time. His medal has been in the custody of the Seattle Police Department since then.